“Assad steamrolls Hama.” An evergreen headline, no? We’ve held off on posting about Syria all day, not because it’s not important but because, after NATO’s clusterfark in Libya, there’s little to say. No one’s going to intervene this time; if the west couldn’t roll a two-bit tent-dweller in Tripoli in four months, we’re not going to dislodge Assad. If the Libyan opposition, per its Islamist strain, is too dicey to align with comfortably, the same is at least as true for Syrian protesters. And if the Egyptian revolution has really come to this, then why would anyone rush to replace Assad with a new monster?
This is happening, though, and has been happening for days, and is likely to ramp up further as Arab audiences get distracted by Mubarak’s trial in Egypt. A neat irony, that: One dictator’s ouster provides cover for another to crush the opposition. Here’s the inevitable “strongly worded” statement from the UN:
The Security Council today condemned the widespread violation of human rights in Syria and the use of force against civilians by the country’s security forces, calling for an end to the violence and urging all sides to act with restraint and refrain from reprisals, including attacks against State institutions…
“Those responsible for the violence should be held accountable,” the Council said in a presidential statement read by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency this month…
It stressed that “the only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations of and concerns of the population which will allow the full exercise of fundamental freedoms for its entire population, including that of expression and peaceful assembly.”
How strongly worded is that? Not too strongly:
[T]he statement sends other signals as well. It explicitly warns against attacks on government institutions. On the view of the Security Council, a full-scale revolt by the Syrian people against the government–a regime that has been killing protesters for weeks–is not justified. The Council statement also insists that the “only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process.” The meaning is clear: outside intervention is not a solution.
The Council is willing to concede that the Assad government has gone too far. But it’s not willing to acknowledge the right of Syrians to forcefully evict their repressive rulers and it does not accept that outsiders have the right to assist them in doing so.
I.e. they recommend no violence from either side. Where that leaves us, given the facts on the ground and the alleged involvement of regime tanks, paratroopers, and paramilitary units in Hama, is precisely nowhere.
The toppling of Assad would be useful to the west not only in ending the killing (temporarily, at least) but in potentially peeling Syria away from Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. A Sunni leadership might reorient towards the U.S. to curb Iran’s Shiite influence — or, of course, it might not. I remember reading a few months ago when the protests first got going how Israel, despite its mutual animosity with Syria, was in no rush to see Assad go given the very cold peace that’s prevailed between the two countries since he took power. Who knows what will follow him. The first rule of the Middle East: If you think things can’t get any worse, just wait a bit.
Two videos here, the first allegedly taken during the military operation in Hama and the second, more controversial, purporting to show members of the Muslim Brotherhood tossing the bodies of dead Syrian soldiers off the town’s bridge. It’s graphic, so please observe your strong content warning. Syrian protesters adamantly deny that the second clip is what it claims to be; Assad’s loyalists have apparently been circulating it to delegitimize the demonstrators. Foreign Policy has a thoughtful post about it questioning the claims. Could be either side, really, which partly explains why the west is staying far away from this.
If you want to know how interested in the crackdown the U.S. government is, this about sums it up.